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GN considers isolation hub in Iqaluit

A plan to set up an isolation hub in Iqaluit or Winnipeg has not been finalized, says Health Minister George Hickes, during the July 20 press conference in Iqaluit. Rajnesh Sharma/NNSL photo

To relieve backlog at isolation hubs, the Government of Nunavut is considering opening a temporary isolation hub for medical travellers in Iqaluit.
“In an attempt to help clear up some of the delays to get into the hubs, Iqaluit is being looked at as one of several options to help relieve the wait time for medical travellers in Winnipeg,” said Heath Minister George Hickes, during the July 20 press conference.

Since March, Nunavummiut have had to undergo a mandatory 14 day self-isolation period in a GN designated hub before entering Nunavut. Presently there are five hubs for self-isolation for Nunavummuit: one in Yellowknife, Edmonton and Winnipeg; and two in Ottawa. Additionally, two more isolation hubs in Ottawa and Quebec City have been set up specifically for construction workers.

Presently, there is a “high demand” for isolation rooms in Winnipeg and people are having to wait up to three weeks for a spot at the isolation hub, explained the minister.

Dr. Michael Patterson echoed, “The idea that we've been exploring over the weekend has been to make use of Iqaluit as a one-time, short term isolation site for a couple of weeks.”

After researching about hotel availability, transportation to and from the airport, food and monitoring of logistics, the conclusion was drawn that Iqaluit could possibly serve as an isolation hub.

The other option on the GN’s radar is creating a second hub in Winnipeg, specifically for medical travellers.

Hickes said the GN prioritizes the stays of medical travellers in isolation hubs above those leaving the territory on non-essential business.

“However, nothing has been confirmed about an Iqaluit or additional Winnipeg hub,” he emphasized.

Behaviorial problems at isolation hubs

One of the challenges faced by the GN is the behaviourial issues of isolating guests. Hickes said many isolating Nunavummiut have complained their fellow residents are not obeying rules and being very confrontational at the hubs.

Hickes said the most challenging aspect of the isolation hubs has been dealing with the alcohol abuse and some of the behaviours that stem from it.

“One of the things that we have been doing from the get-go is offering addiction counselling, offering mental health supports to assist people,” said the minister.

He added, “As far as access to alcohol we have very little control over that.”

The behaviour of isolating guests has affected the room availability at isolation hubs. Some people, who have broken isolation, have to restart their isolation.

“That's a room that should have been cleared that is obviously not available anymore,” said Hickes.

In some cases, the GN has had to relocate guests to different cities to help them avoid “peer pressure” challenges.

How to deal with the behavioural issues of isolating guests is a factor that still needs to discussed and considered before opening an isolation hub in Iqaluit, said Hickes.